Following an impassioned endorsement by the president of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, the county’s needle exchange program has been renewed.

Gary Naylor implored his fellow commissioners and the public to support the needle exchange program, citing the possibility that it can save lives and keep deadly diseases from spreading. Commissioner Dale Strong also spoke in favor of the program before the commissioners voted 3-0 in favor of continuing it on a motion made the Commissioner Mark Nobbe. Had they not acted by Aug. 13, the program would have expired.

Naylor said he has had two sons affected by addiction. One died.

In the needle exchange, also called a syringe exchange program or a syringe services program, people can get clean syringes and other supplies aimed at preventing the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. They exchange used syringes for unused ones. That’s important to the public at-large because people who use needles that have been used by someone else are at greatest risk of getting those diseases and spreading them to others.

In Fayette County, the rate of people returning old syringes has been about 95 percent, according to statistics from the Indiana State Department of Health.

Naylor has made trips into New York city to work with people in need, “deep in the city.” Some, he said, have no idea what a cornfield looks like.

Bringing that back to Fayette County, he said, “There are people out there who have no idea that there’s a better life for them. If we can show them there’s a better life for them, we should do that.”

Responding to some of the program’s critics, he said he disagrees with anything that would enable substance abusers to continue their habit. But, he said, the needle exchange is one way to get people into a situation where they might be able to get help. When they come to the needle exchange to get supplies, the staff provides information and education about helpful community resources.

He spoke of a phone call he had received about the program in which the caller told him “Gary, out of a hundred visits, if we turn one life around, it’s worth it.”

Strong said, “It’s obvious that this program has wide support in the community of health providers” and “I do not want to end a program that seems to be working.”

Also prior to the vote, Charmin Gabbard addressed the commissioners.

“As someone who has OD’d twice and am here in recovery six years later, these things work,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to in the program. It’s not about handing them a needle, it’s about recovery.”

After the vote, Gabbard hugged the commissioners.

Naylor also addressed the current status of the needle exchange, which has been in disarray since the sale of Fayette Regional Health System to Reid Health. The building where the needle exchange had been located was not included in the sale and the nurses who ran the program have been assigned other duties at Reid Health.

Reid Health’s CEO, Craig Kinyon, had attended a meeting with the commissioners and council two days earlier and expressed strong support for the program. Following Thursday’s decision, he told the News-Examiner in an email that he was pleased with the commissioners’ decision to continue the program.

While the program has been approved, it will remain under suspension until a new structure can be developed and a contract for services developed between all the parties, and shared with the commissioners, Naylor said.

“I want structure,” he said.

Strong agreed, saying that, “I do notice that some of the logistics problems in the transition from Fayette Regional to Reid are beginning to take care of themselves.”

Earlier in the meeting, Holly Dunn, who works with Communities that Care and is also a County Council member, said she believes the program is in a better position now to work well.

Tuesday’s discussion involved the commissioners, the County Council, Indiana State Department of Health, the county health officer, and representatives of several other concerned groups. During that meeting, Meridian Health Service’s local director Jessica Burton had said the needle exchange could be located in that building. Meridian Health could provide counseling to participants who want it, she said.

Following the meeting, representatives from Indiana University’s Department of Applied Health Science developed an outline of how the program could be structured. That outline envisions the program going to Meridian Health, with Reid Health providing financial support that might be used to fund staffing. The Indiana State Department of Health would provide all necessary supplies and program support. The Family Services and Prevention Program or Aspire could provided management of the program. IU’s School of Public Health could provide financial support, training and expertise.
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